Guy Ellis

Question: Should teens have part-time jobs?

My opinion in one word is yes, teens should work part-time. A part-time job can have many benefits for a teenager. 

Having said that, there are some potential pitfalls of teen employment that parents, employers, and the teens themselves need to be aware of. These difficulties in most cases can be overcome and they are out-weighed by the benefits of employment.

Speaking from my own experiences as a teen I can say that part-time employment can instill a sense of responsibility, and can build confidence, and self-esteem.

To have a part-time job or not was never a question at my house when I was a teen. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I wished to have a car, I would have to get a job.

It was a powerful enticement to enter the work force because all 16 to 17 year old boys want wheels. The reason? Willis summed it up best when he told Mr. Drummond: “A man who walks- walks alone.”

I called my folk’s bluff for about six months before finally throwing in the towel and trudging off to work at the local KFC.

True to their word my parents co-signed a loan for me at the local bank so that I could purchase a 1976 BMW 2002 that I’d been eyeing. The car had about a million miles on it.

To any parents out there with children who are about to slip behind the wheel here’s a pro-tip: Don’t let your children purchase, or don’t purchase for them, old German cars.

To be fair, the BMW arrived in fairly decent shape for a then-12 year old car. But it really needed, and deserved, a driver more like my grandfather. What it got instead was someone pretending to be Ayrton Senna and AJ Foyt all rolled into one.

So, while I actually paid for the car with my own hard-earned KFC money, the repair bills to keep it on the road were handled by my family. And I got the better end of that deal, for sure!  

There are some excellent life-lessons to be learned by teens during their first steps into the working world. A sense of responsibility is developed through being assigned tasks and accomplishing them in an environment that is new and structured differently than the other institutions that a teen has related with up to that point. A part-time job can push a teen out of his or her comfort zone and place them in a spot where they have to learn new coping skills and where they have to develop new traits and habits in order to be successful with the task at hand. A successful resolution of this conflict can lead to genuine self-confidence in a teen. As a teen develops in the workforce they may come to see how their contributions and their presence help advance the overall scheme of the work place.

All of this pre-supposes that a teen lands a job in the right environment. Simply having a job isn’t enough: for any benefit to come from the experience it has to be the right job in the right place.

My KFC job back home probably wasn’t the greatest environment for an impressionable youth to be spending time in. Let’s just say that I learned a lot of things in that kitchen that were not very useful to leading a productive lifestyle. I don’t mean to knock the Colonel- I still love eating there even after seeing how it’s all made- I’m just relating what was going on way back then, way back home.

The point is that it isn’t just the teen that is going off to work. Parents need to play a role in this process. Parents need to insure that teens are working in a safe environment and that they are working with a group of their peers and that the teen has an age-appropriate job. Parents need to insure that the boss is running a safe-ship and that an acceptable level of supervision is in place. Without those factors the part-time job may end up doing the teen more harm than good.

Eventually my parents moved me to a job at the local, downtown drug store. Besides better hours and better working conditions for me, my parents had the added security of knowing that their son was being supervised appropriately. And, since their offices were just down the street they could pop in and make sure I was earning my keep as a soda jerk.

That drugstore was something right out of 1950’s America. It had a real-live, full service soda fountain. For example, to make a Coke, or Dr. Pepper, I had to squirt syrup into the cup and then fill it with carbonated water. I used to love making myself really syrupy Dr. Pepper’s. A cup of coffee cost fifteen cents and came with one refill and a glass of water. The coffee was served in a porcelain mug on top of a saucer and the water was a cone shaped paper cup set inside a steel base. And I’d deliver out to the tables.

Now, here comes the science.

The fifth stage of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory is identity versus identity confusion. This stage takes place between puberty and the end of the teenage years although successful resolution of the conflict may not occur until later in life. The crisis involves the subject discovering their own self worth and developing their own identity. A successful resolution will bring about the virtue of fidelity in the subject; loyalty to a set of values and a sense of belonging to something larger than their own self.

The circumstances of adolescence, when a person is not yet an adult but no longer a child, gives opportunity for a period wherein identity is pursued. Erikson called this time period a psychosocial moratorium. It is during this time that the subject will seek out commitments and values that will shape their identity.

Whether you subscribe to the letter of Erikson’s theories or not I think we can all agree that the teen years can be a difficult time- for all involved!- and are a crucial stage on the road to becoming a well adjusted individual. A part-time job for a teen can be a valuable tool in helping develop a successful adult.

Like in so many things, communication is the key to getting the job done right.

Communication between people occurs through language; verbal speech and sounds, and paralanguage; those other forms of communication that are not verbal, such as body movement and facial expression. Both verbal and nonverbal communication can be voluntary and involuntary. Each type of communication may be used as a way to describe the feelings and thoughts of the person initiating the communication or as a way to describe their feelings about the person or object to which their communication is being directed. In order to facilitate understanding humans may use and interpret a variety of both verbal and nonverbal messaging.

The earliest forms of verbal messaging between humans were most surely a set of series involving grunts, groans, clicks, yells, and cries. Those means are still in use today- especially at my house- but for the most part verbal messages are conveyed using the words of spoken languages. Words themselves have direct meanings but tone of voice, timing of release, and context can shade the definition of some words from one polar extreme to the other.

Vernacular and popular culture also has a way of lending dual definitions to some words or phrases in verbal messaging. For instance, I was channel-surfing the TV a few weeks ago and became puzzled at why no one on M-TV seemed to speak English.

Messages sent via spoken language can be just as important for what they do not say as opposed to what is actually said. 

Some nonverbal messages are quite direct. The rolling of eyes, brow massaging, smiles, and winks are all very clear displays of messaging. Other nonverbal messages are more subtle. Specific body language relating to posture, nervous ticks, touching different parts of the face, and hand arrangements can all be described as tells of certain feelings. 

Conversely, silence is a nonverbal message that can convey powerful meaning.

Dr. Alan Hirsch, from the department of Neurology and Psychiatry at the Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, explained the “Pinocchio Syndrome”: blood rushes to the nose when people lie. This makes the nose itchy. As a result, people who stretch the truth tend to either scratch their nose or touch it more often.

In a situation where a relationship exists amongst families and significant others there will be a set of rules that will shape the methods of communication used by each party. Constitutive rules, those that help construct meaning, and regulative rules, those that guide the meaning, will determine to what extent verbal and nonverbal messages will be used by each person in a situation or relationship.

When people communicate with one another they send a series of verbal and nonverbal messages. While each aspect plays an important role in understanding it is generally agreed that most people tend to believe with their eyes over their ears. That is to say that the nonverbal messages sent out by a speaker usually carry more weight with the receiver than what was actually said.

For instance, when my wife “asks” me to take out the trash I usually nod and say, “OK, yep.”

When she “asks” the same question, yet is holding a skillet in one hand, generally over my head, well, I usually stop whatever it is I’m doing and hustle the trash can out to the curb in record time.